Clerics reflect on essence of Lent, advantages
Last week, Christians observed Ash Wednesday, which signalled the commencement of the Lenten period of 40-day prayer and fasting. The period marks what Jesus Christ went through temptation and He fasted for 40 days. He resisted the devil and became victorious. What is the essence of Lent, and what is expected of Christians, as they embark on this solemn season of sacrifice? CHRIS IREKAMBA and ISAAC TAIWO report.
‘The Essence Is To Deepen Our Friendship And Intimacy With God’
(Most Rev. Emmanuel A.S. Egbunu, Bishop, Lokoja Diocese/Archbishop of Lokoja Province, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion)
Lent is one of the Church seasons set apart to follow in the footsteps of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Jesus had spent 40 days of prayer and meditation in preparation for His public ministry. During this period, Satan tempted Him, but at every point, He resorted to the Word of God, as the final authority over His life, and indeed, all of life. Lent covers a 40-day period, during which the focus is on the discipline of our fleshly appetites for the nourishment of our spiritual lives. Fasting in the Bible is not just a New Testament idea. Isaiah 58 is a commentary on God’s standard of fasting.
Some practices are encouraged during Lent. These include, abstinence from food, and other delicacies and pleasures. But these sacrifices are in themselves meaningless, if they do not lead us to higher spiritual benefits. The essence is to deepen our friendship and intimacy with God. It is a time to evaluate our lives and values, and focus more clearly on God. In James 4:8 we read: “Come close to God and he will come close to you.” The big thing about Lent is not so much what we do without, as much as what we go on to do instead. If abstinence from food and other pleasures is not replaced with commitment to spending more time in reading God’s Word, and to prayer, then it is meaningless.
It is a time to make things right with God and to offer forgiveness to those who have offended us, or indeed those who have been placed on Church discipline, but have shown remarkable repentance that encourages their restoration. It is a time to share with others what we have, but they lack. Some people have wardrobes bursting with clothes and dresses they have not used for over a year, and yet they know people with whom they can share these things.
Lent is a time to repent of our failures to meet God’s standards, and to ask for forgiveness and renewal, both at personal, family, church and national levels. Our country is going through many challenges on many fronts, at this time. A time such as this can bring back God’s mercy to triumph over judgment. In 2 Chronicles 7:13–14 we read: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We have examples in the Bible of how people repented by fasting, and God turned things around for good. In the Book of Jonah 3, when God threatened destruction and the people repented, proclaiming a fast, God turned away from His anger. If our religious profession ends up as mere ritual and ceremonies, without obedience to God, a commitment to social justice, and kindness, we cannot escape God’s judgment. This, certainly, is one of the best opportunities to plead for God’s mercy and intervention in our nation, so that we will not be destroyed on account of the great wickedness in high and low places, bloodshed, corruption, greed and blatant ungodliness.
‘Christians Should Help Create A Better World’
(Most Rev. (Dr.) Emmanuel A. Badejo, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Oyo)
Lent covers a period of 40 days, excluding Sundays, which is “the Day of the Lord” in which Christians are urged to fast, abstain from legitimate pleasures, do penance, do charitable works for the purpose of praying better and moving closer to God. (Joel 2:12-27) The essence of Lent is positive, penitent and charitable action in favour of spiritual things and of peaceful living with others. In our age, there is a lot more talking than doing good. God rejects that. (Is 29:13-14). Lent is a time of sober reflection on the relationship between God, and us and between our fellowmen, and us to conquer sin and evil and the excessive cravings of the flesh (Matthew 18:8-17).
During Lent, we must acknowledge our personal sins and repent for the purpose of living a new life. (Isaiah 1:16-8). More familiarity with the word of God, love of the neighbour through practical means, sharing our resources, visiting the sick, and confessing one’s sins to the priest (John 20:22-23) are necessary during Lent. Just like physical exercise strengthens the body, such personal sacrifice, spiritual and charitable works strengthen and nourish our soul and spirit.
The ashes of Ash Wednesday are imposed to remind us of our origins from dust and hopefully to root us more in humility and the fear of God, Who made us out of dust (Genesis 3:19). The motivation of all this is that Jesus died for our sins to show how much God hates sin and loves us. We ought to acknowledge that (Romans 5: 6-8). Everybody can participate in Lent, so we must all ask: What can I do in return at this time? Pope Francis has counseled those who want to fast this Lent in the following words: “Fast from hurting words and say kind words. Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude. Fast from anger and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope. Fast from worries and trust in God. Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy. Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others. Fast from grudges and be reconciled. Fast from words and be silent, so you can listen.” In summary, by living well this Lenten period, Christians should help create a better world.
‘This Is The Time To Make Necessary Adjustment To Live Right And Holy’
(His Grace, Most Revd. Emmanuel Josiah Udofia, Primate, The African Church/President, Christian Council of Nigeria)
I know that it is a religious celebration, a time that every Christian should reconcile with God and humble him/herself in His presence.
This is a season, when people should return to God completely in the spirit of sobriety. It is expected that we should at this period demonstrate willingness to obey the Word of God and act according to His will. It is a very important time and season, when every member of the Church should show the spirit of penitence. However, it should be noted that this is not the only time one should fast and be sober. It is just that this is embedded in the Church Calendar and it is beneficial for Christians at this period set aside to in one accord, have a sober reflection and make necessary adjustment to live right and be holy in accordance with God’s expectation of everyone.
The Bible says we should examine ourselves and know whether we are still in faith, and this period affords us of the opportunity to do so. This period also, as we renounce every work of darkness and we humble ourselves, there would be deliverance from every form of demonic attack. Other advantages include, the fact that as we draw closer to God in fasting and prayer and do His will, automatically, we will be blessed, honoured by God and we will enjoy the radiation of His Light. Since we will be living the life appreciated by the Holy Spirit, we will become refreshed because of the closeness of the Third Person in the Godhead.
We will enjoy the leading of the Spirit, because flesh would be abased and we would also enjoy God’s blessings, His Peace and we would have the urge to make peace with one another. If there is any problem we are having, it is because we do not reconcile with God. God is our Peace and when we have this, we would like to extend it to our neighbours and members of our community.
My advice to Christians is that though this is not the only time we should seek God’s face, we should, however, at this period in the Church Calendar be sober and draw nearer to God in complete dependence on Him with uncompromised determination to live for Him, please and honour Him.
Jesus says He is the Vine and His Father is the Husbandman, while we are the branches. He has promised to purge every branch that bears fruit, so that it could bring forth more fruit and as we humble ourselves and seek His face, He would purge us to bear more fruit.
‘Lenten Season Affords Us Opportunity To Make Peace With Others’
(Prophet Sunday Funsho Korode, General/Spiritual Leader, Cherubim and Seraphim Movement (Ayo Ni O), Surulere Headquarters, Lagos)
Primarily, lent is a Christian period that believers should deeply look into God’s Word, with a view to effecting necessary changes that are important in one’s life and live as believers in accordance with the scriptures. It is a period of humbling oneself, getting into sober reflection before God, making one’s way right with Him and making peace with man. This is the time to look at what we have been doing right and those not right. Where we need to make adjustment that would lead to transformation, we do so. God demands obedience from us and where we have been falling short of this spirit, this is the period to penitently seek His face and ask for the spirit of humility to obey Him implicitly. This is a period of disciplining ourselves, get into self-denial and elevate the spirit above the flesh. This is the time in Christian Calendar to grow, as we emulate the life of eagles. This is the time to adapt ourselves to God’s ways, because He demands that we should be perfect just as He is. He never minced words, when He demanded that we should be holy as He, our God is holy.
Christians should know that the entire life operates according to changes in seasons. We would do ourselves a lot of good, if we always take cognisance of how we spend our time. There are various times in life and we should be conscious of the stages and seasons in life. This is the reason we are told in Psalm 90:12 that the Lord should teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Therefore, this period calls for reflecting on what we do and how we do them, so that we would be able to know if we are doing things in conformity to God’s desire, because doing things as He wants them done is very crucial so that we do not labour in vain.
He told Moses that he should ensure he built the tabernacle according to the ‘pattern’ He was shown, while He was with him on the Mount. God is not just interested in doing things, but doing it according to His will. Jesus Himself warns us that it is not all those that call Him Lord, Lord that would enter the Kingdom of God, but those that do the ‘will’ of His Father in heaven.
This period affords us to pray fervently, meditate on the Word of God, and press forward in our living a holy life, reminding ourselves of His Word that, “without Holiness, no one would see the Lord.” We should restitute our ways and practically make restitution to right as many as we have wronged. There are five essential ingredients of living right and these include, character, conduct, conversation, creed and contribution.
Christian life goes beyond just doing things good, but doing things acceptable unto God and this is the period we can be sober and hear Him, as He directs us.
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